LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA—In the latest stop on his goodwill tour to improve U.S. relations with foreign produce, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack attended a meeting Thursday with a fresh head of Slovenian cabbage.
The high-level meeting, which included a private dinner with the leafy-green Slovene dignitary, involved strategic discussions on a range of bilateral and global issues, including the lack of arable land in Slovenia, the recent overhaul of vegetable-canning regulations, and the rise of the new center-left Positive Slovenia political party.
Though no official agreements were reached during the talks, the visit is being heralded by representatives of both nations as a major step forward in the strengthening of diplomatic ties between American and Slovenian vegetables and fruits.
"Secretary Vilsack was quite charmed by the Slovenian cabbage during his productive visit," Agriculture Department chief of staff Krysta Harden said. "It's no secret he and the vegetable have had disagreements on key issues in the past, especially with regard to forestry initiatives, crop-dusting policies, and global warming, but both share a pragmatic approach that, in the end, makes it possible for them to find common ground."
"Mr. Vilsack and the cabbage have always shared a tremendous mutual respect for each other," Harden added.
The meeting with the waxy flowering plant comes on the heels of Vilsack's summit conference with a Polish green bean Tuesday, his state dinner with British asparagus shoots Saturday, and last week's four-day retreat at the compound of an Italian basil leaf.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. Ljubljana time, Vilsack was seen arriving at the cabbage's Tivoli Park residence, where he was greeted by the riboflavin-rich luminary and its delegation of leeks, sugar beets, a white grape, and several bales of hay. Immediately following a brief tour of the property's sculpture garden, the two withdrew to the cabbage's office for closed-door meetings.
Sources confirmed Vilsack was able to attend the talks without a translator, as the secretary speaks conversational cabbage.
"As with any such visit, we had to make sure Secretary Vilsack was familiar with the cultural traditions of his hosts," said Vilsack aide Debra Mureen, who went on to describe the Slovenian custom of not looking directly at a cabbage while talking to it. "For example, when greeting an Egyptian chickpea it is customary to bow during introductions, while in a country like Bulgaria, it is a sign of great respect for a leader to bring his or her spouse when interacting with any vegetable."
Along with a gift bag full of American loam soil, Vilsack presented the cabbage with a brand-new iPod that had been pre-loaded with videos and photographs from the cabbage's 2008 American visit and nearly seven hours of music, including selected songs from Tony Bennett's recently released Duets II album. Accompanying the media device was a pair of Bose headphones custom-fitted for the cabbage.
Sources confirmed one indication the visit may have gone well occurred when, following a discussion about increasing farm subsidies in Slovenia's Pomurje region, the cabbage allowed Vilsack to nibble on a few of its leaves.
"We had a very good, very frank talk," Vilsack told reporters while sitting across from the cabbage during a photo op in which he and the vegetable took no questions. "I know I can trust this cabbage. It's a good cabbage, a family cabbage. We may have different opinions on matters such as the European debt crisis and silt, but I can assure the produce of Slovenia that it will always have a friend in the United States of America."
Thus far, foreign analysts have praised Vilsack's tour, which they said became essential following a major misstep in which the secretary acted coldly toward a piece of German fennel at last year's V8 Summit.